Friday, April 04, 2014

Making Friends

While working with Naia on our duet at the end of 2012, she made an observation that I was really fighting to get the veil over my head. This has always been a problem for me from the first time I picked up a veil back in my newb days. Every time I picked up the veil I fought with it. My upper body would quickly become fatigued and sore even with the most basic of veil work. Once or twice a year I would dig out my veil, flail about, and then decide that veil practice took longer and was more painful than I wanted to invest in. Veils are pretty, sure, but could I dance without one? Yes. So for 14 years I did my best to avoid it.

Admittedly, I had fun dancing with veil at Naia's direction in our duet. I spent the next year trying to analyze why I struggled so much. What was making veil my least favorite prop all of these years? Most bellydancers fall in love with veil from the moment they touch one. Why have I been the only one who kind of hated it?

Back in the pain days. I may look happy but I'm not.

To answer this question I have to go back to the summer before our duet. I have been sitting at a desk for a living for over a decade. My hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves are so tight that many of the common dance stretches (pigeon, kneeling hip flexor lunge, etc.) were almost impossible for me. I relied heavily on forward bends and triangle poses that, while good for flexibility, were not addressing the right areas of my body.

That summer, I was introduced to the simplest of standing hip flexor lunges at a workshop with Ava Flemming. Doing this particular stretch (feet forward, heels down,) created a much different feeling than the other stretches. Just by turning my feet forward and tucking my pelvis created a painful yet blissful feeling from my low back, through the front of my pelvis, and all the way down and around to the back of my knee. Stiff muscles and joints...understatement. Initially, my lunge was quite shallow. I started doing it daily. I would fit it in here and there. Waiting on the microwave, before bed, before and after dance practice, in the checkout. I made this lunge a part of my daily being. Even if I could only hold it for just 5 seconds per side once a day.

Now, my lunge is much deeper. I have also added a side stretch leaning away from the outstretched leg creating a deeper stretch. I am slowly undoing the default fetal position my body has curled into over the years of sitting at a computer. My lower back feels better. My posture is improved.

So I thought what can I do to help me get the veil over my head without flinging it and grimacing? I took a cue from my hip flexor stretches and started looking for ways to open my chest and shoulders. And again, I found the simplest stretch made the most impact. I picked up my veil in earnest and started working on my flexibility. Everyday for a week I held my veil in both hands and did very slow shoulder rotations stretching my chest and lubricating my shoulder joints. That's it. No music. No dancing. Over the next few weeks I added in a few basic veil turns or tosses after stretching, but just a few. If I felt pain, strain, or fatigue I stopped and put the veil aside. My practice consisted of barely 5 minute spurts of stretching and arm work.

These baby steps made a huge difference. My flexibility has improved enough with proper stretching that I began learning a beginner veil choreography from a DVD. I work with the DVD at least once a week, sometimes more. Sometimes I work for 5 minutes, sometimes as much as 30 minutes, but only as much as my body can handle and no more. And despite my lack of experience performing with veil, I have picked up quite a veil vocabulary through workshops and choreography classes over the years. The DVD is giving me a structured practice for the technique I already know which I can follow at my own pace instead of being at the studio going the class' pace.

After 14 years of avoidance, (particularly after I had concluded veil is the devil,) the veil and I have made friends. Being a beginner at veil is pretty actually pretty awesome. I am getting much satisfaction out of the tiniest accomplishments. I learned how to get in and out of an "envelope" without getting my head caught...most of the time. With each successful "envelope" it is like opening a present and finding me inside. Surprise! That was me under the veil the whole time.



Stephanie Ann said...

I thought I was the only one that tight!

Crystal said...

I just tried that hip flexor stretch and I dig it. I have one side that's way more tense than the other. Bodies are weird.

Shoulders are the WORST. I tend to lie on one side facing my laptop, propped up on one arm for *mumble mumble* hours a day, so I think I've pretty thorougly screwed up my upper back. This stretch has been my jam lately:

(If it doesn't go to the right one, it's the 5th slide out of 8.)

Naima Dance said...

@Crystal, wow slide 5 is pretty intense on my left side but I dig it. I'm also liking slide 2. I think I'm going to add both into my practice.

Kis said...

Good arm technique is the trick with veil. Of you bend or not stretch up enough then it with wrap your head and become a face sucker.

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